Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Mam Tor via Winnats Pass

Well since we got back from skiing in France all I have done is house work. Yes having a wife with a broken leg is making me appreciate the hard work she does around the house. There you go I said it! It has also been extremely difficult finding time to enjoy my hobbies including getting outdoors. So this weekend I had to get out of the house and go for a walk by myself. The criteria for this weekends walk was to do something local but also a bit different. So no guide book or popular routes. Scouring of a map is so much fun and I had lots of fun doing so on Saturday night. The Dark Peak is always the obvious choice for something close by when I haven't got much time. I couldn't stay away from the house for too long as I had a mountain of chores to do and a legless wife to look after. I decided to Tweet out on Saturday night to my many fans, sorry I mean followers of course, to see if they had any ideas for something a bit different. One of my fans, sorry I mean followers of course, Mike Beaumont who I met at the Monsal Head social meet this year said he was looking at a route involving the Winnats Pass. I think it was in one of the magazines this month and I had looked at it with some interest myself. However what I really wanted to do was see the Winnats Pass from above. I am always in awe of the Winnats Pass, I find it incredible that such a stunning ravine is situated where it is in the Peak District National Park. I often look at it when covered in snow and think it could easily be mistaken for somewhere in the Alps.

Winnats Pass below Mam Tor

So after Mike mentioning the Winnats Pass I had a look at the map. The map I have is several years old and doesn't have the open access land shading on it. I went online and found that the Winnats Pass and its immediate surroundings are in fact open access land. Looking on Bing Map's aerial photography I could see there was in fact a faint path that skirted over the southern side of the pass, this was the side I had wanted to walk along as I wanted to explore the pinnacles. Looking up at them has often caused me to almost drive my car straight into on coming vehicles when driving up the pass. As a National Trust member I am often on the lookout for National Trust car parks which are free to members. The one under Mam Tor on the road out to the Winnats Pass is just that, so this was to be the starting point. One of the reasons why the Winnats Pass is the busy route it is today of course is because the original A625 road to Castleton collapsed in the late seventies. I have seen the collapsed road from Blue John Cavern but never explored it or seen it up close. So with that in mind, the second half of the route would take me up to the collapsed road where I could also get a closer look at the iconic fragile south face of Mam Tor. I would then finish the walk by heading up to Hollins Cross on the Great Ridge and walk back to the car park via Mam Tor's summit itself.

The collapsed road below Mam Tor

The weather wasn't great, the forecast was for dull low cloud. They got it spot on unfortunately despite my hoping they could have got it wrong. Snow had fallen quite heavily over the last fortnight over the Peak District so I was really looking forward to hearing that familiar crunching sound under my feet. The first signs of snow came around Lyme Park and Disley. By the time I was coming off the A6 towards the Hope Valley it was a monochrome winter wonderland with a grey roof. As I passed the farmers field opposite the Chestnut Centre I could see hundreds of sledge lines in the snow. That poor farmer has been putting up with folk parking on the road side, jumping over his stone wall and using his field as a sledging ramp for decades. I could see the herd of Fallow Deer in the field behind the Chestnut Centre looking as beautiful as they always do. As the road got higher the snow got deeper on the higher moors. I reached the National Trust's Mam Nick car park where dozens of blue tits were foraging the ground for bits of food among the snow. With them was a tiny Wren who didn't seem too bothered by my presence as I opened the door to put on my gaiters. At least this time my gaiters didn't have a pair of my wife's knickers stuck to the velcro like they did the last time I put them on before a walk! I set off along the road and headed over the icy fields of Windy Knoll towards Winnats Head Farm. The paths were treacherously icy. I was however thankful of the ice when I got to the path behind Winnats Head Farm. The path here is a quagmire of cattle dung and mud, a quite pointless path in my opinion.

Grand setting for lunch under Mam Tor's south face

After rounding Winnats Head Farm I found myself at the cattle grid at the top of the Winnats Pass. I crossed the road and headed up the other side. A flat open area of grass above the road revealed what looked like an old mine area. I went to explore it and found dripping frozen water had created some fabulous looking ice stalagmites which I managed to get a good photo of. After exploring the hole I started the steep ascent to the faint path I had seen above the pass on the aerial photography online. Reaching the path was fairly straight forward and the path then just followed a simple route along the top of the south side of the pass. The only problem being the ice and at times when the path got close to the edge, the sheer drops to the road. At every chance I stayed as close to the edge as possible. At one point I put the camera down to take a self timer shot and run out on to one of the pinnacles. I didn't make it in time and when I turned and looked behind me I realised one step more and I would have been lying on the floor of the ravine like Wile E. Coyote. My legs shook like mad so I quickly got back to the path. The views back along the road had Mam Tor above them making a great photo. It was shocking just how high the ravines walls are, the cars looked tiny from up there. There was a walker walking through the grass area next to the road and it was only after seeing him for a second time that I realised he was a walker, at first I thought he was a dog as he looked so tiny. The path eventually reached the far eastern end of the pass and I then had to deal with the hardest terrain of the day. Here you can either take a safe long detour via Castleton or just head straight down very steep grass to the path behind Speedwell Cavern. I chose the latter and it was really hard going at times.

Fragile geology of Mam Tor's south face

I met a couple on their way up who were struggling with the steep ascent. They sat down for lunch looking over Castleton and the Hope Valley and I smiled and carried one. When I was near the bottom I looked back up to the couple and saw them pointing into the air. Only metres above them was a Kestrel flapping away. You make your own luck, and when you decide to clamber up a hill for stunning views while you eat your lunch you deserve such luck. I crossed the road at Speedwell Cavern and took a muddy path to Treak Cliff Cavern. From there I took a high path that eventually turned left into a quiet icy clough to eventually reach Blue John Cavern and the collapsed road under Mam Tor. The collapsed road is quite an eye opener. It has been left exactly as it was the day it collapsed. The tarmac with road markings looks like it has been torn apart by a huge monster capable of ripping apart tons of tarmac and foundations. The tarmac twists and buckles like nothing I have ever seen, the only comparison would be the scenes you see on the news after an earth quake. From the collapsed road I walked across to the bottom of the fragile face of Mam Tor. I decided that sitting on one of the many gritstone boulders that had fallen from the mountain would be an idyllic location for lunch. The term mountain is not often used for such smaller hills and certainly not used very much around the Peak District. However I dare anyone to sit in that spot underneath Mam Tor and deny it such status. With the huge south face covered in snow and ice I felt like I was sat in the grandeur a Scottish Highland corrie. The fragile strata up close showed layers of crumbling shale separated by layers of broken gritstone boulders. This was so much better than I had expected it to be, I'll definitely be back here again. I think a horseshoe walk around the edges of this miniature corrie would be a great short walk.

The icy Great Ridge path to Mam Tor

I then took the decision to follow a very narrow, muddy and icy path to reach Hollins Cross. If I did it again in the same conditions I would definitely just have headed back to the collapsed road and taken the road then bridleway route to Hollins Cross. This muddy path was awful and my boots doubled in size due to the mud caked all over them. I reached the gates just before Hollins Cross and turned left following the masses along the Great Ridge path. I say path but to be honest it was more like a tobogganing run. This is a very popular route and most people were not that well prepared for such conditions. As the path got steeper and more icy towards Mam Tor many people were turning back, while others stayed off to one side of the path, making an already over eroded path even wider. I of course being all smug and prepared slipped on my Kahtoola Microspikes and just plodded along crunching my way along the icy path. I often felt that smugness that a 4x4 driver feels when it snows and everyone else struggles to keep their car on the road. A few people stopped me to ask what they were or where I had got them from. Yes Hitch n Hike in Bamford you owe me big time! As I approached the summit of Mam Tor the clouds drew in like cold grey curtains and swallowed up all the views. The summit was surprisingly quiet compared to its approaches which I think was due to the amount of people who had given up before reaching the summit. I made my way back down to the Mam Nick car park. I opened the car door, removed my gaiters and entered the warm welcoming environment. I turned the engine on and looked at the windscreen to find it had started raining at that very moment. Great timing! All the way home it was low cloud and drizzle, but I didn't care as yet again I had managed to find the perfect weather window. It was a great day out, a short walk, but I took my time and managed to create a route with a lot of variety.

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...


  1. Nice blog, just sorry I couldn't have joined you.

    Glad you had a good day.

  2. One of my favourite areas, love the 360 degree view from Mam Tor!

  3. Days out in the Peak were a feature of my childhood and I always found Winnat's awe inspiring. That collapsed section of road is one bit of road-walking which is well worth under-taking! Nice photos and an interesting read.

  4. Aye shame you couldn't have joined me Matt but looks like you had a good day yourself on Kinder that week!

    Winnats Pass really is awesome Mark, love driving through it and seeing it from above like that is great.

    1. I lived by Mam Tor when I was 18. Diving a horse drawn bus with a shire horse.

  5. Great blog! To be honest I didn't realise what great trekking there was in the UK until I read some of your posts :)

    Greetings from Australia, Janna

  6. Janna the UK is full of incredible mountain scenery, you would love it! Thanks for visiting Trekking Britain all the way from Oz. I have done a little walking in Oz too. On holidays I have walked the circuit of the Olgas, walked around Uluru and last time I was there I did the Grand Canyon in the Blue Mountains. All stunning! :-)

  7. Yes, they are all stunning - in a very different way to the European scenery. All nature is beautiful in its own way.